• Art, History and the Spectacular Iya Valley, Shikoku’s Hidden Gem


Art, History and the Spectacular Iya Valley, Shikoku’s Hidden Gem

Recommended Length: 4 Days

Deep within the mountains of central Shikoku, the Iya Valley is a far cry from Japan’s bustling cities. Its untouched natural beauty, lush green forests and deep ravines will take your breath away. Take in the fresh mountain air, sample authentic mountain cuisine, soak in hot springs and stay in luxurious accommodation. A trip to the Iya Valley will be an unforgettable experience.

Day 1
Takamatsu and Ogijima

Travel: Osaka to Takamatsu

・Take the Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka Station to Okayama Station (Approx 50 minutes)
・Take the Marine Liner rapid train service from Okayama Station to Takamatsu Station (Approx 1 hour)

Ritsurin Garden

Enjoy traditional Japanese tea and a tranquil boat ride in Takamatsu’s world-renowned 400-year-old Ritsurin Garden. Famous for its picture postcard views and hundreds of well-manicured pine trees, Ritsurin Garden is designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty and received a glowing three-star review in the Michelin Green Guide Japan.

Bonsai at Takumikumo in Kinashi Town

After wandering among the pine trees of Ritsurin Garden, check out some in miniature in the nearby town of Kinashi. Takamatsu is said to produce 80% of Japan’s bonsai pines and Kinashi Town is the home of Takamatsu Bonsai. Nakanishi Chinshoen’s fifth generation-owner Yoichi Nakanishi is keen to help visitors interact with bonsai to learn more about this age-old craft. At Takumikumo Village, visitors can explore a forest of exquisite bonsai trees and leave with a newfound understanding of the philosophy, skill and patience needed to create these living masterpieces.

2.5 hour tour of the gardens and nursery, led by a bonsai master, followed by your choice of cultural experience (choose from creating your own bonsai moss ball, trying kintsugi golden joinery, making wagashi sweets, lacquerware or uchiwa fans) are available with 2 weeks advance notice.

Beautifully prepared lunches and dinners, using seasonal ingredients and served on artisanal tableware can also be arranged for groups of 4 people or more (Halal, vegetarian, vegan options also available) with 2 weeks advance notice.

URL: https://v.takumikumo.com

Travel: Takamatsu to Ogijima

・Take the ferry from Takamatsu Port to Ogijima Port (Approx 40 minutes)

・Find local ferry information in English here.

Ogijima Island

Jaume Plensa"Ogijima's Soul" Photo: Osamu Nakamura

TEAM OGI "Takotsuboru" Photo: Keizo Kioku

Rikuji Makabe "Project for Wall Paintings in Lane, Ogijima, Wallalley" Photo: Osamu Nakamura

The island of Ogijima lies 40 minutes off the coast of Takamatsu by ferry. One of the islands of the Setouchi Triennale art festival, some interesting artworks are on permanent display. Ogijima is very walkable and has a wonderful small island vibe. Toyotomahime Shrine offers a great view.

Travel: Ogijima to Takamatsu

・Take the ferry from Ogijima Port to Takamatsu Port (Approx 40 minutes)
・Find local ferry information in English here.

Accommodation: Anabukitei

This castle-like lodging in central Takamatsu seamlessly blends traditional Japanese ryokan culture with modern luxury. Anabukitei accommodates one group at a time and each group can have up to nine guests, making this an ideal high-end stay for families or groups. The spacious communal living room provides a relaxing space to unwind, while the chic, minimalist bedrooms ensure a comfortable night's rest. Continuing on from Ritsurin Garden and the bonsai nurseries of Kinashi, a black pine, of course grows in the garden and locally sourced Aji stone (the most expensive in the world) is used in the masonry work throughout the property. Anabukitei will be a luxurious home away from home during your stay in Takamatsu.

URL: https://www.anabukitei.jp/en/

Day 2

Konpira Shrine (Kotohira-gu)


Konpira Shrine (also known as Kotohira-gu) is one of Japan's most famous and revered Shinto shrines. The shrine is dedicated to the god of sailors and seafaring, and visitors need to climb 785 stone steps to reach the main shrine building. If you are feeling more intrepid, you can climb the additional 583 steps to reach the inner shrine at the top of the mountain. As you explore Konpira Shrine, you will be amazed at the architecture, the intricate carvings on the buildings, and the stunning views of the surrounding countryside and the Seto Inland Sea.

Other nearby attractions include Kanamaru-za (Japan’s oldest kabuki theater) and the Kinryo Sake Museum. You can also try your hand at making the region’s famous Sanuki udon noodles at the Kotohira branch of the Nakano Udon School. Open from 8:30 am you can even have them for breakfast, like many locals do!

Accommodation: Kotohira Kadan

Kotohira Kadan is a historically significant, lavish Japanese ryokan hotel nestled on a mountainside in Kotohira Town. The immaculate Japanese-style suites have stunning views of the surrounding countryside and Konpira Shrine. With a long history dating back over 400 years, Kotohira Kadan’s guestbook is a Who’s Who of distinguished writers and artists who have stayed at the ryokan over the centuries. Unwind in Kotohira Kadan’s magnificent hot springs and enjoy Thai massages in the ryokan’s Salon Bankunmei. The exceptional Japanese cuisine at Kotohira Kadan is made from a delicious array of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Kotohira Kadan is the place to come for an authentic Japanese experience.

URL: https://www.kotohira-kadan.jp/en/

Day 3
Iya Valley

Travel: Kotohira to Iya Valley

・Take a limited express train from Kotohira Station to Oboke Station (Approx 45 minutes)
・Rental car or chartered taxi is the best way to explore the Iya Valley.

Shikoku Mannaka Sennen Monogatari

This scenic train offers a more leisurely approach to seeing the beauty of the Shikoku countryside and majesty of the Oboke Gorge. Beautifully designed, the train runs from Tadotsu, calling at Kotohira. A fine selection of on-board meals with ingredients sourced from the region are available on board.

URL: https://www.jr-eki.com/global/en/travel/sennen_top/index.html?_gl=1*jsv3rr*_ga*MTg2NTgxMDYzNy4xNjQ0ODE4MzIx*_ga_K0B5H69NMS*MTcwNzM1NTE4MC4yMzIuMC4xNzA3MzU1MTgwLjAuMC4w

Exploring the Iya Valley

Explore Iya’s breathtaking landscapes as you hike through its winding trails and ancient footpaths. You will encounter awe-inspiring views, picturesque waterfalls, and charming villages that appear frozen in time. The Iya Valley is famous for the Kazurabashi bridge – a suspension woven bridge spanning 45 metres across the Iya River. It’s a long way down, so this is not for the faint hearted.

Accommodation: Tougenkyo-Iya (recommended if traveling by car)

Tougenkyo-Iya is a collection of eight pristine Japanese thatched roof farmhouses in the mountain village of Ochiai in Higashi-Iya. This is the quintessential Japanese “satoyama” landscape where village life and nature overlap and cohabit the same space. The houses, built on the mountain during the Edo period (1603-1868), have been beautifully renovated to allow guests to experience traditional Japanese country living in comfort.

All the houses look out at the beautiful valley below and you have the option of catered meals with local dishes prepared for you by locals. Tougenkyo-Iya goes beyond the usual vacation lodging. Staying here will give you a chance to discover the essence of Japanese life and culture.

URL: https://www.tougenkyo-iya.jp/reservation/

Accommodation: Iya Bijin (recommended if traveling by public transport)

A short distance away from the famous Kazurabashi vine bridge is Iya Bijin, a small boutique ryokan hotel with nine immaculate guest rooms. Each room comes with its own open-air bath (either a ceramic bath or a hinoki cypress bath) and unparalleled views of the surrounding Iya countryside. The restaurant at Iya Bijin is popular for its buckwheat soba noodles they make from scratch using the fresh spring water from Biwa Falls. Dinner includes local vegetables, handmade tofu and wild plants from the mountains. The meat dishes will vary according to the season and sometimes include wild game.

URL: https://iyabijin.jp (Japanese)

Day 4
Iya Valley

Travel: Oboke Gorge, Koboke Gorge

・Travel by rental car or chartered tax is recommended.

Oboke & Koboke Gorges and the Yoshino River

Carved out of the Shikoku Mountains over 200 million years by the Yoshino River, Oboke Gorge and Koboke Gorge is the destination of choice for travellers looking to encounter Japan’s great outdoors. You have different options on how to explore this stunning natural landscape. Aside from hiking through its trails and forests, the Oboke Gorge Sightseeing Pleasure Boat can take you upstream and show you the gorge from the water.

For the more adventurous, you can find white water rafting operators along the Yoshino River. This river is regarded as one of the best white water rafting locations in the world – so much so they staged the 2017 World Rafting Championships on the river. For over ten years, Happy Raft founded by experienced Australian rafter Mark Treston has been guiding visitors through the rapids and offering other exotic gorge-based activities like canyoning. Along the gorge, you will find wonderful viewpoints offering breathtaking views of the area. If you are lucky with the weather conditions, you might witness the sea of clouds (unkai) that can form in the valley below.

Take a tour of Iya

Shikoku Transportation offers a one-day bus tour of the attractions in the Iya Valley and Oboke on Saturdays, Sundays and National Holidays April to November (every day during May, October and November) that start and end at JR Awa Ikeda Station. Online reservations are available in English here.